Michael Banerian, the youth vice-chair of the Michigan Republican party, is a 22-year-old political science major at Oakland University, a part-time salesman and deliveryman for his family’s Detroit-based wine-distribution business — and a proud fourth-generation Armenian-American. “When you look at the American dream, and the successes people have been able to achieve as immigrants, my family is kind of the epitome of that concept,” he says. Many of his relatives came to the United States in the early 20th Century as orphaned children seeking to escape the Armenian genocide. “They had nothing when they came over, but they were able to work their way up, and adapt to American society, and become proud Americans. They were able to achieve that promise.”
But people who’ve lived here peacefully, and who’ve been productive members of society, should have a chance to re-earn their legal status.
That promise is still within reach of today’s immigrants, if they’re willing to abide by the rules and work hard, he says. “The U.S. economy isn’t working the way we were promised, but the United States is still a place where an immigrant can start at the bottom and climb up and be successful.” He doesn’t think borders should be open to everyone, but he does want a workable legal process for people who abide by the law and contribute to the economy. For the government, this means being realistic about undocumented immigrants. Deporting that population, he says, would be “fiscally irresponsible.”
What’s needed, Banerian argues, is an immigration system that stops well short of offering amnesty, but still differentiates between the troublemakers and the undocumented individuals who are contributing to American society. “It isn’t okay to let people who’ve broken the law stay without consequences,” he says. “But people who’ve lived here peacefully, and who’ve been productive members of society, should have a chance to re-earn their legal status.”
That might mean instituting fines or a waiting period during which people would need to repay back taxes, followed by an eventual opportunity to gain permanent legal status or citizenship, Banerian says. Either way, he argues, any reforms need to be carried out with an awareness of the potential impact on American workers but also of the country’s long history of welcoming — and benefiting from — hardworking immigrants. “It’s something that’s in our DNA, and the U.S. needs to keep that kind of mindset.”